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Wizards flip the script on late game collapses, road woes

Wizards flip the script on late game collapses, road woes

ORLANDO -- The opening stretch of the season needed a rewrite. Not just because the Washington Wizards only won five of 13 games, but also the repetitive narrative. Wizards take a healthy lead. Wizards fall behind. Wizards lose. Then factor in the monotonous and gloomy road angle. Washington had yet to win away from Verizon Center entering Friday's rematch at Orlando.

Perhaps the final 6:05 of the 94-91 victory over the Magic will serve as a catalyst for a team still seeking an identity. If nothing else, there's a new chapter and one worth repeating.

The Wizards led by 19 points in the first quarter, but only 72-68 entering the fourth. When Magic guard Evan Fournier's 3-pointer was followed by D.J. Augustin's 3-point play, the Wizards trailed 80-76. The home crowd inside the Amway Center roared, just as they did on Nov. 5 when Washington was outscored 27-16 in the final period of an 88-86 loss.

"The biggest thing was our intensity and our defense," guard Bradley Beal said of the difference between the two games. "We were physical and played hard for 48 minutes regardless of what the score was. That's the biggest difference."

This time, Washington made the winning plays. Otto Porter's two 3-pointers sandwiched a deep shot by Augustin. Marcin Gortat layups accounted for Washington's next two field goals and put the Wizards up for good. 

Yet what truly fueled the victory occurred when Orlando had possession. After Augustin's 3-pointer, the Wizards held the Magic without a point on five straight possessions. Combined with the Porter 3-pointer's, the Gortat layup's and John Wall's, late game wizardry, Washington held on. 

"I thought our guys did a good job of competing," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "In order to win on the road, you have to win on the defensive end. I thought we did that throughout the game."

That was especially true early -- Washington led 26-7 in the first quarter and Orlando had 15 turnovers in the first half -- and late. 

"In the first quarter we had a big lead -- and it started to go away," Wall said. "In the third quarter...we were not making shots or playing well. We still defended at a high clip."

Is Orlando a miserable offensive team, one that entered ranked 29th in scoring? Yes, but the Miami Heat labor in that area and yet put 114 on the scoreboard during a win in Washington. 

Are the Magic a playoff contender? Probably not but who cares at this point, especially after recent losses to the Heat and Philadelphia 76ers, two of the five straight foes with losing records faced by Washington. The Wizards (5-9) just need some momentum. Going 3-2 over their last five helps the cause heading into Saturday's meeting against San Antonio. 

Did the Wizards simply win this game with the Magic because Wall played after sitting out the previous meeting? Obviously, that helps. That Wall is also moving closer toward peak conditioning after coming off two knee surgeries cannot be ignored. 

This road win gets dismissed if Washington reverts back to the previous narrative. Perhaps it won't be fair judging the outcome against the title-contending Spurs, but wins can't just come against teams headed to the next draft lottery. If the Wizards combine resolve and effort going forward regardless of any momentum changes, then perhaps this regular season ends with an uplifting conclusion. For now, Washington takes the win and flips the road woes page. 

"It was a big win altogether whether it was at home or on the road," Porter said. "That is two in a row and we are just trying to take it one game at a time."

Cliches equal bad writing. That approach works just fine for a team seeking positive momentum.

[RELATED: Takeaways from the Wizards' first road win at Magic]

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The case for Davis Bertans to make the NBA's three-point contest

The case for Davis Bertans to make the NBA's three-point contest

Since acquiring Davis Bertans from the Spurs in exchange for the rights to Aaron White, the Wizards have unlocked the sharpshooter's full offensive potential. 

In San Antonio, Bertans was known more as a spot-up, floor-stretching power forward. Now? He's one of the most feared snipers in the NBA with his ability to come off screens, get his shot off quickly and drill threes from just about anywhere on the court. 

Bertans should without a doubt be invited to compete in the NBA's three-point contest at All-Star weekend. Jordan McRae is leading the campaign charge and the Wizards recently started a campaign to get him there as well. 

So as we await word on whether Bertans will be invited or not, let's lay out his claim as one of the most prolific three-point shooters in the league and how he stacks up against everyone else. 

By the numbers

Bertans is shooting 42.4 percent on 8.7 three-point attempts per game, which is absurd efficiency at that volume. 

Of the 14 players that take at least eight threes per game, nobody is shooting at a higher clip than Bertans.

He's also second in the league in three-point makes per game (3.7), trailing only James Harden. For players who make at least three triples per game, Bertans has the third-highest shooting percentage on his looks. 

If that's not enough, Bertans leads the NBA in catch-and-shoot makes from deep this season (3.2). The three-point contest closer resembles catch-and-shoot opportunities rather than shooting threes off the dribble. If Bertans were to compete in such a setting, he'd feel right at home. 

Supreme confidence

Confidence is one of the most crucial traits of a great shooter, and Bertans has no shortage of self-assurance.

He could be 0-for-7 from three and 2-of-10 from the field, but that wouldn't stop Bertans from taking a 30-footer with the game on the line. 

Speaking of 30-footers, Bertans is more than comfortable launching shots from several feet beyond the three-point line. If he ends up shooting in the three-point contest, I wouldn't be surprised if he wanted to move the ball racks back a few feet just for kicks. 

After a game in which he made six threes against the Hornets, Bertans was asked if there was a three he felt was too deep for him to take. His response?

"I haven't found that yet."

The competition

Last year there were 10 participants in the three-point contest at All-Star weekend. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant hurt this season, you have arguably the three best snipers in the NBA all sidelined with serious injuries. 

Without those three, I'm not sure there are five shooters in the league better than Bertans, let alone 10. 

As of now, there have been three reported invites to the contest. Luka Doncic (32.7 3P%), Trae Young (37.3) and Duncan Robinson (42.9), though it's not yet clear if those players will accept. 

Bertans is in line for a nice payday this summer based on his play so far this year, but his recognition around the league shouldn't stop there. 

All you need to do is watch a Wizards game when Bertans hits a few threes in a row and look at how the defense reacts to him. They abandon their entire gameplan to run Bertans off the three-point line. 

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Wizards' three-point defense continues to stand out as a major weakness

Wizards' three-point defense continues to stand out as a major weakness

With the 30th-ranked defense in the NBA, the Wizards have more than one issue on that end of the floor, but lately what has stood out most is a familiar problem.

Three-point defense remains a major weakness for the Wizards, who have had trouble guarding the perimeter going back to last season. It killed them in their overtime loss to the Heat on Wednesday night, as Miami made 17 threes and shot 51.5 percent on their 33 attempts. 

We can focus on Bradley Beal's late-game misses, or the free throw shot disparity. But the biggest reason the Wizards lost to the Heat was their inability to prevent three-point shots.

Even the guys everyone knows can shoot found little resistance. Tyler Herro made 7-of-9 from long range, Duncan Robinson hit 4-of-7 and Kelly Olynyk went 2-for-3.

If your goal is to stop the Heat, who are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA, from making them, you circle those names at the top of the scouting report. The Wizards knew it was coming and still couldn't stop it.

This came two games after the Toronto Raptors made 22 threes against the Wizards, the third-most ever allowed in their franchise history. And on the season, the Wizards currently allow the ninth-highest three-point percentage (36.9) and the sixth-most threes made (12.3) on average.

Last season it was also an issue, as they gave up the fifth-highest three-point percentage (34.1). Much of their personnel is different, yet the same problems persist.

The Wizards may not be able to do much about it this season, barring major changes at the trade deadline. They are only going to be so good at stopping threes with Isaiah Thomas as their starting point guard. Backup Ish Smith, though much more mobile than Thomas, is also at a size disadvantage.

They are simply going to be limited by the way their roster is constructed. In the front office's defense, they had to change a lot last offseason and couldn't fix it all. They made the Wizards younger, more financially flexible and a more efficient offensive team. But they didn't do much to fix the defense and, in fact, it has gotten worse by almost every measure.

Defense will clearly be a major priority going into this summer, if their current pace continues. There will, however, be no easy fix for their three-point defense.

They will need to get a more defensive-minded point guard, assuming Thomas doesn't come back. Maybe John Wall can help their cause when he returns. He is a former All-Defensive selection with the size and length to be a good three-point defender. But he hasn't exactly been consistent in that department throughout his career.

These days, three-point defense is about much more than guards. Teams can roll out lineups with five players who can stretch the floor. The Wizards will need to add big men to their rotation who are nimble enough to man the perimeter.

Perhaps the best way the Wizards can plug some holes in their three-point defense is by their young forwards learning how to be more disruptive. Their two most recent first round picks, Troy Brown Jr. and Rui Hachimura, each have plus wingspans and have flashed solid defensive instincts. The Wizards need them to be able to step out and alter outside shots.

It will be a challenge for general manager Tommy Sheppard and the Wizards front office as they go into this summer trying to take the roster to another level. When healthy, the team has shown they can score. But they don't play defense anywhere close to good enough to be a winning team.

What they have to do is figure out a way to infuse the team with capable defenders without sacrificing much in the way of their offense. They won't be able to cure all of their ills overnight, but they could start on the perimeter.

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